Written by | Derek Carlson

A Weekend at the Tilly Jane Cabin on Mt. Hood

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Growing up in rural Alaska meant I spent a lot of my youth visiting off-the-grid cabins that were usually only accessible by foot, boat, or plane. These out-of-the-way retreats were a great place to unwind, do some fishing, or, as a teenager, get away from the prying eyes of our parents.

Oregon is well known for its out-in-the-wild experiences, and I have been eyeing a visit to the Tilly Jane cabin on Mt. Hood ever since moving here back in 2008. This cabin is located on the far less visited eastern side of Mt. Hood at the top of a 7-mile dirt road heading straight up to the tree line. Think Timberline lodge with no electricity, no water, and visitors that number in the dozens rather than the 1000s.

Ever since Covid hit, this cabin, which under normal conditions serves as group lodging for backcountry skiers and hikers, has been fully reservable for the low price of $40/night. With the knowledge that the cabin would be converting back to group rentals at the end of 2022, we decided it was now or never if we wanted to give our kids a fun, roughing-it cabin experience up on Mt. Hood.

A Bit of History on the Tilly Jane Cabin

Sign about the history of the tilly jane cabin

The Tilly Jane Cabin is the most well-known structure within the Tilly Jane recreation area. This area includes the Tilly Jane campground, guard station cabin, historic cookhouse, amphitheater, and the Tilly Jane A-frame cabin.

The Civilian Conservation Corps originally constructed this recreation area as a way to encourage recreational use in the area. Built in 1939, the Tilly Jane A-frame was the last structure built in the area and has been in continuous use ever since.

Over the years, there have been numerous improvements and renovations to the cabin, most of which are spearheaded by the Oregon Nordic Club.

As it sits today, camping at the A-frame is still a rustic camping experience, but the hard work put in by the forest service and ONC has made staying there very memorable and a whole lot of fun.

Our Weekend Stay at the Tilly Jane A-Frame Cabin

Knowing that staying at the Tilly Jane cabin with a three and 5-year-old would probably not be the best idea once it returned to group stays after Jan 1, I set to work finding a free Saturday night during the cooler months of September or October.

Reserving the Cabin

The forest service manages the Tilly Jane cabin, and it is reservable on reservation.gov. Usually, the cabin has 20 open slots, and you’d reserve the number in your party. For the time being, though, the cabin is only open to one party at a time, so it shows as available or full for any given night.

I started searching for a date during the early fall months which would provide some reprieve from the heat (which we definitely found…more to come on that) and falls before they close the road for the winter (varies from early Oct to mid-Nov depending on snowfall).

Unfortunately, all of the Saturdays were booked out through the end of the year, but some persistent checking eventually resulted in a Saturday stay opening up in mid-September.

The adventure was on, and the kids were pumped!

Making Your Own Reservation at Tilly Jane

The Tilly Jane cabin is primarily used in the winter by backcountry skiers, so weekend reservations, even when it returns to group bookings, can be hard to come by. I recommend keeping an eye on weekend dates when they become available six months in advance, although I’d imagine this cabin does see a lot of cancellations as plans and weather can quickly change.

If you’re looking for a private cabin camping experience once Tilly Jane returns to group lodging, check out the Guard Station! It is located just down the trail from the Tilly Jane cabin and can be privately booked during winter. This cabin is extremely popular, so you’ll need to book it well in advance.

Getting to the Tilly Jane Cabin

The Tilly Jane A-Frame is located on the eastern edge of Mt. Hood, 10 miles up a bumpy dirt road from the Cooper Spur ski area.

Mt Hood from the Tilly Jane Road

In the summer months, the cabin is accessible by car as you can drive all the way up to the campground. During the winter months, the road is closed and the only way to reach the cabin is by snowshoe or ski.

This means either taking a short and steep trail (2.7 miles and 1,900 feet of elevation gain) or a longer but more mellow ski trail (9 miles with the same elevation gain). These trails start from the Tilly Jane Sno-Park, just past the Cooper Spur ski area.

The Tilly Jane cabin is at 5,700 feet of elevation, so when the road opens can vary wildly by year. This year (2022), the road was closed until mid-July due to the cold, wet spring we experienced. The closing date will also vary depending on the conditions.

Once you drive up the road once, you’ll see why they don’t want anyone driving up or down once the snow starts falling!

As we visited in September, we were able to drive all the way to the top. This meant driving through some pretty big sand pits and avoiding a ton of huge potholes, but we made it. At the top, a few small cars had made it up, but I’d be pretty nervous driving any low-clearance vehicle up that road!

Despite the rough road, the views were outstanding on the way up. Much of the drive is through the 2008 Gnarl Ridge burn remnants, so you have near unobstructed views of the mountain and, on a clear day, to the east and north.

Hike to the Cabin

You’ll see a fork in the road about a mile before you get to the cabin. Head left to continue on to the Tilly Jane area or right to detour to the historic Cloud Cap inn.

We chose to head directly to the cabin to give us more time to get everything set up and hopefully head out on a hike before the forecasted rain showed up!

When we arrived at the parking lot, we saw the remnants of the campground and the winter guard station.

Tilly Jane guard station
The Tilly Jane Guard Station…almost there!

A windstorm on Mt. Hood in 2020 brought down a huge number of trees around the campground, so the area can be a bit confusing at first as there aren’t any clear trails or directions for getting to the cabin.

Our first attempt at hiking to the cabin resulted in a slight detour down towards the creek, so we had to backtrack and head up towards the guard station before cutting down towards the creek and trail to the cabin. Not much fun when lugging an armful of camping supplies!

The trail to the cabin is approximately 1/4 mile long and cuts over Tilly Jane creek, by the amphitheater and old cookhouse, before arriving at the cabin.

Keep this in mind when packing, or you’ll end up like me and having to put in 2 miles of hiking to get everything shuttled from the car to the cabin.

Tilly Jane Cabin Sign

Arriving at Tilly Jane Cabin!

Front of the Tilly Jane A-Frame Cabin

You can only imagine the excitement that had been building for the kids about getting to stay at their very own cabin in the woods on Mt. Hood.

Once we all caught a glimpse of the roof through the trees, our first thoughts were how big it is. I mean, I figured it would be pretty large if it could fit up to 20 people but seeing it in real life was impressive.

Despite its size, the structure blends into the natural surroundings and looks like it has been there forever. And it kinda has!

The cabin is accessed through a metal gate that covers the front entrance. Up until a few years ago, there was just a lock on the door, but repeated vandalism over the years necessitated building a more secure entrance. Such a bummer!

Inside the Cabin

Just inside the metal entry door is a covered area used for firewood storage and the bathroom with a new composting toilet.

The toilet was honestly a nice surprise as we fully expected to be using the usual pit toilet found at these types of backcountry locations. The bathroom also had an led light with a motion detector which was a nice touch for those late-night visits.

Tilly Jane A-Frame cabin composting toilet

Once inside the cabin, we were treated to the layout of the downstairs area. It is honestly huge inside, and I understand how it can fit so many people during the winter months.

The newer wood stove and a firewood rack are near the front door and behind the stove are two huge tables that can fit a crowd.

tilly jane a-frame cabin interior tables and wood stove

The kids commandeered one table for their toy car race track. One benefit of being there by ourselves!

There are shelves along one wall with what I would imagine would be a rotating stock of supplies. On our visit, there were matches, two gas lanterns (bring your own propane canisters!), decks of cards, books, maps, pots and pans, and a bunch of other assorted odds and ends.

tilly jane cabin wood stove and front door

There is a large decommissioned cook stove along one wall that you can use to set up a camp stove for preparing meals. They request that you don’t put any pots for melting water or cooking on the wood stove.

There is no running water at the cabin, but you can haul water in the provided buckets from Tilly Jane Creek and boil it. We had brought plenty of our own water, but this would work in a pinch if you needed additional drinking water or water for washing dishes.

Light and Heat in the Cabin

As I mentioned earlier, the cabin does come with two propane lanterns that can be hung from hooks in the beams.

The night we visited, one half-full propane canister had been left behind. I wouldn’t count on that always being the case, though, and would recommend bringing two of your own. We brought two, and over the course of the evening/night ended up going through the half-full one and half of one we brought.

The lanterns also take mesh mantels; although the cabin listing says these are provided, it isn’t a bad idea to bring your own. We were able to use the mantels already in the lanterns, and there was an extra set on the cork board, so we just stuck ours up there, too, for future parties to use.

If you’ve never used a propane lantern, I’d recommend watching a quick video on how to install the mantels and light the lantern, as it is kind of easy to mess up, and the cabin gets very dark at night.

The lone heat source for the cabin is the wood stove. As this is a rather rustic cabin, it gets a bit drafty, so while it can be nice and warm near the wood stove, don’t expect the rest of the cabin to be all that warm. Especially in the winter months!

Exploring the Sleeping Loft

Up the STEEP stairs, you’ll find the very rustic sleeping loft.

From everything we read before visiting, it seems that this part of the cabin is probably next on the upgrade list, so don’t expect much from it as of today!

Tilly Jane a-frame sleeping loft back

The loft is just that, a loft with space to spread out camping pads and sleeping bags. As it was just the four of us, we set up a square of sleeping pads near the stovepipe. I can only imagine what it would be like, though, with 10 – 20 people trying to all sleep up there!

Front of the sleeping loft at the tilly jane cabin

Towards the front of the cabin is a small open room with an emergency exit and a door to a small deck. Aside from some hooks for hanging clothes or a lantern, that is about it for amenities up here.

It’s basic but does the trick!

And now it is probably time to address the elephant…er…rat in the room

The Tilly Jane Rat King

Before visiting, I had seen a few mentions of a mythical creature living within the cabin walls and coming out at night to forage for food left out by unsuspecting visitors.

Tilly Jane Rat King

This creature is a packrat, and once we had a chance to explore the whole cabin, it was obvious that we would be spending the night with it in one form or another.

If you’re squeamish about rodents, I’d consider skipping ahead a bit, as this part is a little gross.

There was rat poop all along the walls of the upstairs of the cabin, along with tons and tons of mouse poop within the wood piles.

We ended up spending a fair amount of time with the bottle of bleach spray that was so generously left at the cabin cleaning up as much of it as we could.

And any questions we had before visiting about whether or not we would actually hear or see the rat king were answered during the night as we listened to it running around downstairs. Ick…

ANYWAYS…Back to the more positive side of things

It was pretty funny to read through the years of entries in the guest book and see all the previous guest’s notes and drawings of the cabin and the aforementioned rat king.

Despite the scritching scratching of the rat king, we managed to get a good night’s sleep in the loft thanks to some brand new sleeping pads that put our bed at home to shame!

Weather at the Cabin

Despite being inside the cabin, which we can attest to during our stay, does a good job of keeping the rain and snow out, you still need to prepare for cold or hot weather accordingly. Even if you plan on having a fire in the wood stove.

The weekend we visited just happened to correspond with the first cold snap of the fall. The forecast called for plenty of rain with a possibility of snow at the cabin.

Luckily, when we arrived, it was merely cloudy and cool, and the rain held off long enough for us to shuttle everything to the cabin and get out for a short afternoon hike.

After the sun went down, the skies opened up, and we got to spend the evening listing to the rain fall on the cedar shake roof.

That may have been my favorite part of the trip was we huddled around the lanterns playing go fish and listening to the rainfall after what had been a hot August and start of September.

The cabin definitely cooled down in a hurry, but I had lugged plenty of blankets and sleeping bags from the car, so we were well prepared.

Exploring the Tilly Jane Recreation Area

Even though the Tilly Jane cabins busy season is winter that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t tons to do during the summer and fall.

The area around the cabin is crisscrossed with trails running both around Mt. Hood and up to higher vantage points like the Cooper Spur Shelter.

You can also take a short one mile trail over to the Cloud Cap Inn area to explore the historic lodge that spurred the development on this side of Mt. Hood.

We took a hike up the Cooper Spur trail to the head of the Polallie Canyon to stretch our legs after getting set up at camp.

This very sandy trail heads straight uphill starting just behind the old cookhouse. The first half mile it skirts the edge of the Poallie Canyon before breaking out of the trees before the final climb to the Cooper Spur Shelter.

We stopped short of the shelter as the clouds were beginning to look ominous but have heard its a fun place to check out on a clear day.

After returning to the cabin we met someone who was actualy headed up to spend the night there. Given all the rain weended up having I’m curious how the night went as the old rock shelter up there doesn’t provide a whole lot of protection!

The area around the cabin is also fun to explore as you can check out the old cookhouse, amphitheater, or just relax around the fire ring and picnic tables directly behind the cabin.

During the day the Forest Service asks that, if you’re around the cabin, that you keep it open to visitors. We had numerous people stop in and check it out as they were probably as curious as we were about visiting this historic sturcture.

Other Things to Note About the Tilly Jane Cabin

Here are a few other various notes about the Tilly Jane A-frame.

  • Much of the upkeep of the cabin is done by volunteers so check out the friends of Tilly Jane Facebook page if you’d like to keep up to date on events happening at the cabin like firewood stacking or restoration projects. The group is also a good resource for updates on road conditions or grabbing last minute cancellations.
  • This is a shared cabin in the remote wilderness so keeping the cabin clean is on all of us. Take some time to sweep the floors, clean up your trash, and add a few communal items for the next party.
  • Read the instructions on the front door for how to use the wood stove. It is tough for volunteers to drag up new parts in the middle of winter!

We loved out trip up to Tilly Jane and the kids made memories that will last a lifetime. We are already looking forward to when they are old enough to make a ski trip up in the winter!

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